Tourism gets global codeJanuary 2009
A coalition of 32 tourism trade organizations and companies has announced criteria to guide members on reviewing their social and environmental impacts.
The bodies and businesses, which have combined under the title of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC Partnership), have drawn up the criteria as ‘the minimum standard that any tourism business should aspire to reach in order to protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources’.
The principles, which are supported by other interested parties, including the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the Rainforest Alliance, are a distillation of more than 60 voluntary sets of criteria already implemented in the sector worldwide. For two years a team of sustainability and tourism industry specialists examined more than 4500 separate criteria and consulted 80,000 people, including conservationists, government authorities and UN bodies.
The final document covers problems such as how to maximize the social and economic benefits of tourism to local communities, and how to minimize damage to cultural heritage and the environment. The GSTC Partnership will produce educational materials to show hotels and tour operators how to implement the advice.
William Maloney, chief operating officer for the American Society of Travel Agents, a signatory body, said the criteria were designed to ‘define once and for all what it means to be a sustainable travel company’.
Other organizations backing the partnership include the International Hotel and Restaurant Association, representing 300,000 hotels and eight million restaurants, and four tourism firms – Choice Hotels, Expedia, Hyatt Hotels, and Travelocity.
The sector has long been criticized, especially by the United Nations, for failing to deal with its social and environmental impacts. In 2006, when work on the criteria began, a PricewaterhouseCoopers study found European hotel businesses were still behind most other sub-sectors on corporate responsibility policies – and that efforts to improve their ethical performance were ‘very fragmented’ (EP8, issue 2, p6).
More than 900 million tourists went on holiday globally during 2007, and UNWTO forecasts that the number will increase to 1.6 billion by 2020.
Francesco Frangialli, secretary-general of UNWTO, said the sector’s growth emphasized the need for tourism companies to reduce their negative impacts. There was also a strong business case for taking action, as more customers are demanding ‘eco-friendly’ holidays.
Janna Morrison, Choice Hotels’ senior vice-president of corporate social responsibility, said the criteria ‘provide a much-needed common framework’ that should achieve some consistency across the industry.
However, Edward Fitsell, senior researcher at the Corporate Citizenship consultancy, said that although the criteria ‘go some way to helping the industry’, companies should aim to exceed them, not just meet them.
‘Ultimately legislation is likely to follow any voluntary standards, so by exceeding the criteria companies will put themselves in a good position when such legislation eventually comes into effect,’ he said.
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